Working title: Skin up, ski down
Peak: Mt. Moosilauke
Trails: Ravine Lodge Road, Gorge Brook Trail, Carriage Road, Snapper Trail
Mileage/time: 10.9 miles, ~3028' of gain, book time of 7:00, actual time of 6:59
I said that this winter was going to be the winter of backcountry skiing. Well, up until now, it's been pretty sparse. A run on the Sherburne back in January, and another run this past Wednesday, has been about it. March, snowy March, has brought about mid-winter conditions to the resorts and backcountry alike. Being on vacation, it was time. A rather timely text from my friend Jake netted plans for some skiing on the Moose!
After skiing the Sherburne and Cranmore on Wednesday, and then Cranmore again on Thursday (after 14" of wet heavy powder), I was beat, but happy to get out for a tour. 4am came way too early, and I was out the door 30 minutes later. I met Jake at his place and we set off for the mountains. Everything was smooth until we turned onto 118. Saying that this road is a mess, would be a huge understatement. Up and down we bounced until turning onto Ravine Lodge Road, where we parked and got ready.
Under moody, generally overcast skies, with the sound of the wind in the treetops, we clicked in and were off touring. The road was unbroken, with 2-4" of snow with a light crust on top. We both worked up a sweat, and before we even knew it (about 40 minutes), we were at the end of the road and the start of the Gorge Brook Trail.
Starting up Gorge Brook, we talked about skiing/snowboarding down this trail... all I can say, is no thank you. Too narrow for my liking! Frequent stops were made, as I'm still recovering from my latest cold (second one this year!), but we still made good upward progress. Reaching the first viewpoint, it looked as though we might have a chance at views.
Trail breaking continued, but as we gained elevation, the crust disappeared, and the snow was fluffier. Smiles all around. Sadly, we were not to be entertained by summit views, as we soon climbed into the base of the cloud deck. The wind roared above us, as we discussed the plan once we reached the top. Search out snowfields, that was our objective!
Layering up just before treeline, we entered the maelstrom. Emerging onto the moonscape, we followed the cairns. There were pockets of snow, and some interesting drifts, but it was mostly ice. Visibility was poor, but enough to see cairn to cairn, snow fell from the sky, blown by the wind. It was all very reminiscent of my first hike to this peak, way back in 2010. Those times feel worlds away. This time, my glasses did not freeze. Small miracles. Reaching the rime encrusted sign, we paused. The wind markedly accelerated as it pushed over the summit, and we took shelter just down from it.
A small snowfield just off the summit to the east looked tempting to Jake, so he removed his skins, and got seven turns out of it. Re-skinning and coming back, we discussed our options. Visibility was terrible, and searching around for snowfields went out the window. We decided to head for our descent route. The Carriage Road above treeline is well marked by large cairns, which we had no problem following. There was much drifting where the trail entered the scrub and trees, making for interesting travel. Snowshoe tracks emerged as we got just below treeline, looks like someone came up and turned around. Soon reaching the Glencliff junction, we saw the tracks coming up from there. The Carriage Road looked like it had been skied a day or two prior, but looked otherwise untouched.
After our break, we started down. The trail was narrow, but not overly steep, and we got in some pretty killer turns in the soft powder. I have no pictures of the badassery, so you'll just have to take my word for it... it was some of the most fun skiing I've ever done! 1.2 miles (or 1.1 if you believe the sign) goes really quick when you're on skis, and we very quickly reached the unbroken Snapper Trail. Even though there were a couple of minor uphill sections, we kept our skis on, and had a decent run down the narrow trail. Just before reaching the Gorge Brook junction, I barely saw a snow covered bridge, open water, and before I knew it I was on the other side of the small brook, hugging a tree! I didn't make noise soon enough because Jake came right up behind me and nearly met the same fate.
Back at the junction, we took another break before skinning up and heading out. It looked like a solo hiker had come up behind us, and packed out the trail with snowshoes, so we'd have a smoother track to descend on (because obviously, they did it for us). Crossing back over the Baker River, we swung over to the lodge itself, where Moosilauke briefly revealed itself.
Skinning back up to the road, we kept them on until we got the uphill portion out of the way. Then it was skins off, heels unlocked, as we were able to make a nearly uninterrupted run back to the gate, some poling required. I decided to be different, coming around the gate, I stayed right, skiing behind the little kiosk, right up to the car. I then became mired in the unconsolidated snowbank. Totally worth it.
Renegotiating 118, we made solid time back to Maine, and even made it home before dark. For me, this was the first mountain that I've ascended and descended entirely on skis. What a blast of a tour, and one that will likely be repeated in the future. Thanks to Jake for a great day on the boards!
There's some plan-hatchery going on right now, and I should have some interesting reports in the next couple of days. Stay tuned.